At the corner of Lombardi and Holmgren, late last Saturday night
in Green Bay, sits the Weather Channel's StormTracker satellite
truck: It is a meteorological vulture, hoping for a feast of
foul weather on Sunday, when the Packers will host the San
Francisco 49ers, those pantywaists from the West Coast.
Seven miles from the StormTracker is Vince Lombardi's old house,
a redbrick ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban Allouez. If
it weren't for the indecency of the hour--it is now just before
seven on Sunday morning--you would knock on the door and
endeavor to have a drink at the basement bar, where Saint Vince
entertained, win or lose, after every Packers home game. Four
miles from there is St. Willebrord's Catholic Church, where
Lombardi was a daily communicant while coaching the Packers to
five league titles in seven years. The priest inside, Father
Albin V. Veszelovszky, has a name like a '60s linebacker and a
Bela Lugosi accent, and presides over a Mass on Sunday that
should resonate with every tailback who tells you that God was
on his side today: "In truth," said the apostle Peter, "I see
that God shows no partiality."
Or does he? Two miles from St. Willebrord's, at 1265 Lombardi
Avenue, is Lambeau Field, far more blessed than any other in
football. Dale Jaeger is a parking attendant in lot B, but he
might as well be the maitre d' at a three-star Parisian
restaurant. "People try to bribe me for the best spaces," Jaeger
says of the scarce end spots that are ideal for tailgating.
"They offer me beer, food, condiments. Some of them give me
Christmas presents and year-end bonuses." Despite the prodigious
drinking by thousands around him--it is now 8:30 a.m. on Sunday,
and the lot has been open for a full hour--Jaeger hasn't seen a
fistfight today, nor in 25 years of parking cars. "These are,"
he says, "good-hearted people from the Midwest."
Van Nguyen is a Midwesterner by way of Vietnam, from which he
emigrated to Green Bay at age 15. Now 32, he speaks in a
disarmingly hard-voweled Wiscansin accent. "Most Vietnamese
people like the warm s---, so they move to California, Florida
or Texas," says Nguyen. But he lucked out and landed near
Lambeau. "Every time I walk in, I tell myself I'm not going to
get emotional," he says. "Then I see the players run onto the
field and hear the roar and the national anthem and then the
planes fly over and...my eyes well up."
Indeed, Nguyen is welling up as we speak, but that may be from
the eye-watering fumes that are everywhere: bratwurst and cheddar
links, grilled steak and boiled lobster, the scent of buttered
cheeseburger wafting over from Kroll's West restaurant, a
timeless Packers haunt whose slogan is Where Butter's King--and,
one assumes, angioplasty's queen.
Bart Boyden, 39, drives a green-and-gold '72 Cadillac Fleetwood
that's emblazoned with PACKERS logos and the Wisconsin license
plate 01PACK. In his trunk he has the plates 87PACK, 88PACK,
89PACK and so on, through 99PACK and Y2KPACK, and the
Mississippi plate FAVRE, which he talked off a woman in New
Orleans five years ago. To set the tone for today's game, he is
playing--on a loudspeaker lashed to the Fleetwood--the theme
music from vintage NFL Films.
Retiree Rich Mossing drives nine hours from Toledo for every
Packers home game, despite having no tickets--he always scores a
pair--and no ties to Wisconsin. His green-and-gold GMC Savannah
is festooned with Packers helmets and carries the Ohio plates
PACKVAN. "Detroit fans are especially bad," he says of the
Michigan motorists he passes en route. "Many of them nearly get
into accidents while turning around in their seats to flip me
Inside Lambeau hours later--on a dyed dirt field, with the
temperature a disappointingly warm 28[degrees]--the Packers lay
waste to the Niners, and a Fox camera isolates on 45-year-old
fan Larry Primeau. In 1990, for reasons he can't adequately
explain, Primeau lag-bolted to a vintage '60s Packers helmet a
set of antlers from a deer that he'd shot in northern Wisconsin.
The antlered helmet was a hit at Lambeau, Primeau dubbed himself
the Packalope, and in 1997, when the helmet was enshrined in
Canton, Ohio, in a display about pro football fans, he built
himself a replacement, which he wears to this day.
Former Packers linebacker Brian Noble told Primeau that his
Packalope helmet seemed a waste of perfectly good deer antlers,
but Primeau would hear none of it. "I put that deer," he told
Noble, "in the football Hall of Fame."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO